Were it not for Kelly Slater, this week's XBox Pipeline Masters
on the North Shore of Oahu would have been little more than a
coronation for ASP WorldTour defending champion Andy Irons. A
25-year-old Kauai native, Irons would be wrapping up a second
straight title at Pipe, pro surfing's signature event. Instead,
Irons found himself in a familiar (if exasperating) role:
underdog to the 31-year-old Slater. A six-time world champ,
Slater returned to the tour full time last March, after competing
only sporadically since 1998, and Irons's chances of successfully
defending his title suddenly got tougher. "Kelly has been the guy
for so long," an idle Irons said last Sunday, when small surf
forced a temporary halt in the competition. "You just knew he'd
be there in the end."
With a scant 96 points separating the top-seeded Slater and the
second-seeded Irons coming into the Pipe Masters, the final event
of the season, the stakes could not have been clearer: Whichever
one finished higher in the tournament would win the 2003 ASP
title. Adding to the drama of the North Shore showdown was the
relationship between the world's top two surfers, one that can
be, according to one insider, rather frosty. Irons hardly defused
such talk, saying, "Kelly's had his time. Actually, he's had a
lot of times. Now it's his time to move on."
Slater, one of the sport's most intense competitors, clearly had
other thoughts. After winning his record sixth ASP crown in 1998
at age 26, he had struggled through two years of semiretirement,
watching as two older rivals--Australia's 33-year-old Mark
Occhilupo in '99 and 30-year-old Sunny Garcia of Hawaii in
2000--won titles in his absence. But when Irons, long the heir
apparent to Slater, won last year's title handily, Slater
committed to a comeback.
Irons, with four wins to Slater's two, held a slight edge in the
points standings into the fall, but Slater's back-to-back
victories in Spain and Brazil in October virtually assured him of
a seventh title; a top 10 finish at the Rip Curl Cup at Oahu's
Sunset Beach in late November would have given him a nearly
insurmountable lead. But Slater's shocking early-round loss at
Sunset, combined with Irons's eventual second-place finish,
reduced Slater's lead to those negligible 96 points heading up
the coast to Pipeline.
With competition on hold until at least Wednesday, the name of
the 2003 ASP champion remained in doubt. What was certain,
however, was that Kelly Slater was once again the sport's man of
the year. --Josh Elliott
COLOR PHOTO: TOSTEE.COM (SLATER) RIVAL RIDERS The comeback of Slater meant rougher waters for defending champ Irons (inset).
COLOR PHOTO: AARON CHANG/GETTY IMAGES (IRONS) [See caption above]
COLOR PHOTO: TYLER STABLEFORD (CSIZMAZIA)
It's no surprise that ice queen Kim Csizmazia (left) lives in
Canmore, Alberta, the subzero climbing mecca of the world. There,
the two-time winner of the Ouray (Colo.) Ice Festival braves
temperatures of -30° and axes her way up the Canadian Rockies'
most difficult ice routes. Csizmazia, 36, will compete in the
Jan. 17-18 Ouray comps and then prepare for a three-week climbing
expedition with top female Alpinist Kitty Calhoun on Alaska's
Mount McKinley this spring. Says Csizmazia, "The real adventure
is the hard ice in the mountains."